A chef who describes himself as a ‘local born, bread and butter Otago’ has threatened legal action against a string of restaurants – often within days of starting work.
The man, who goes by the name Artemis Indigo Davis, has a Christchurch criminal record as Benjamin Thomas Tapper-Norris, and has received at least $10,000 from several Dunedin businesses in the past fortnight alone to settle his alleged personal grievances.
At least seven companies each reportedly paid Davis between $2,000 and $6,000. They signed confidentiality clauses with him preventing them from speaking.
These legal threats effectively meant that Davis could move from company to company and job to job without being exposed.
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However, that changed when Davis applied for a job at The Swan, a restaurant and bar on Dunedin’s Bath St, on April 7.
Hours after the job was advertised on Trade Me, owner Sarah Hussey received an email from Davis applying for the job of chef.
He came for a brief chat. “Everyone who met him was like, ‘he’s so nice,'” she said.
They discussed Davis doing a tryout the following Monday. However, alarm bells quickly rang for Hussey and her husband Patrick.
Those in the close-knit industry told them to beware, while others cast doubt on whether he was a trained leader.
Davis got back in touch with Sarah Hussey to say she hadn’t rung her references and Patrick Hussey replied via email to say there would be no job offer.
“We never offered him a contract…we didn’t set a rate of pay.”
Davis messaged Sarah Hussey to say he hopes “it’s all been some pretty wild miscommunication” and that he’ll come over with some fall menu ideas.
“There is no position for you within our company,” she replied.
Davis responded by advising that he was filing a personal grievance.
On Monday morning, the couple received an email from Davis saying he had “already turned down other job offers because he had agreed to work at The Swan”.
Another email sent by Davis the same evening said: ‘It is clear that you have failed to comply with your legal obligations to work in good faith and that there is no justifiable reason to terminate my employment. , especially since no due process was followed regarding the termination of my employment. »
He claimed to have suffered financial loss and “to have been deeply offended by the dishonest and unprofessional manner in which you have chosen to operate, your actions have caused me to lose all faith in you as employers and as human beings”.
He requested a settlement package between him and the company, which included $3,000 “for injuries and humiliation suffered.”
He also asked that the details of the settlement and all communications “remain strictly confidential between the parties, except for enforcement purposes.”
Additionally, he demanded that the official record show that he quit regardless of the day the settlement was signed by both parties, and demanded payment of 40 hours’ pay until the agreement is reached. be signed.
His email continued: “You are also obligated to inform me of the reason for my dismissal and this should be taken as a request for that reason, failure to provide it to me will be cause for further personal grievance. “
Sarah Hussey said she was surprised by the legal threat. She had been a business owner in Dunedin for 19 years and had never had a personal grievance against her.
She felt for those in the industry who could not speak out due to confidentiality agreements.
“What bothers me the most is that our industry has been struggling for so long, and then this guy comes along and scams the right people out of their hard-earned money.”
Senior Sergeant Anthony Bond confirmed police had received a complaint and were “investigating”.
“We encourage anyone with knowledge of the matter to come forward and tell us about this and any other associated offences.”
Bond urged any company to carry out thorough reference checks and vetting processes before hiring staff.
Davis was approached for comment by Thing Thursday morning. When asked if he had caused problems for Dunedin businesses, he replied: “You should probably call my lawyer, bro.”
He refused to say if he had been paid by several companies: “I don’t know what you are talking about… I would like to know who told you that.
“That seems ridiculous to me.”
Davis claimed he was a trained chef: “I am a chef, yes.
“I worked as a chef for a very long time.”
He denied changing his name.
When asked if he used a different name on official documents – Benjamin Thomas Tapper-Norris – he hung up.
In 2014, Tapper-Norris appeared in Christchurch District Court for burglary and theft. The judge told him, “You seem to be living in an imaginary world.”
The court heard that he had been expelled from school because he had spent too long in detention.
Dunedin lawyer Jenny Beck said she had acted for Davis “in the past” and was not free to say whether she was currently acting for him.
She noted that the parties were involved in confidentiality agreements.
One of the referees on Davis’ resume includes Wellington-based chef Jared Young, who said he recommended Davis.
He said he didn’t know if Davis had any formal training, but his work was “not bad at all.”
“He’s…passionate, he loves what he does.”
Davis’ CV said he was originally from Queenstown and was a ‘born, well-fed and buttery Otagoan’, who had worked in restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels in New Zealand. and in Europe.
Know your rights
Susan Hornsby-Geluk of Dundas Street Employment Lawyers said all employers should carry out strong reference checks and require the candidate to allow them to speak to their last employer.
Employers should ensure they are asking the right questions during the recruitment process, including whether a candidate has already been terminated from a previous job.
However, employers should be careful when asking if an employee has ever filed a personal complaint against a former employer, as this could constitute unlawful discrimination.
She said if an employer was threatened with a personal grievance by a new employee, she would caution them against “just paying to make the problem go away”.
“Hanging on and resisting any payment in the first place will really test whether the employee really believes they have a case.”
She said an employer could withdraw an offer before it was accepted without any legal consequences.